The Before- WHEN THEY SEE US

TW:  The Central Park 5; Police brutality; Industrial Prison Complex; Mass Incarceration

 

The miniseries ‘When They See Us’ started airing on the streaming service, Netflix, in late May 2019. 

The first time I remember distrusting the police I was about 10.

I was about 8 when The Central Park 5 became a national news story.  I remember going with my father to the grocery store in Cahokia, IL (about 40 minutes from where we then lived). We were headed home, and we stopped.

My father wasn’t speeding. He was the only adult in the car. And we had groceries. He was driving a black GMC  pick-up. The officer asked him to step out. He did, and what I vividly remember is the officer, whom was shorter than my father, white and blonde and mustached, asked who the other adult was in the car. I remember my father, in all his 6’2″ could muster, said, “She’s 10.” The flashlight he shone in the car might as well have been the damn sun. He asked what the glass bottle was, because it was drank out of, but capped. He was a fan of Mr. Pure juices, and that’s all it was. I remember he didn’t come back right away.  This pause I am sure now was to make sure the truck he made payments on, registered to him, wasn’t stolen. I think the officer said something like “Take care”, returning my father’s ID and freedom to him.

At 13, after my cousin’s encounter with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, I was done. I saw my cousin illegally searched in my maternal grandmother’s doorway. I remember wondering, “Why is this happening?” My father was there and saw them, and told them to get out. These two white, plainclothes officers, were insistent. They wanted my cousin. My father told them to get out. They acted like they weren’t going to go. But they did. He yelled at my mother for opening the door and summoning my cousin to it. He told me then, “Jennifer, if the police call you to their car don’t go. They don’t have any right to bother you unless they have a reason or a warrant.”

I remember my Dad telling my cousins (John, whom they were looking for; Joshua, whom they weren’t)  they would have to run to my cousin Joshua’s house–about a 10 minutes away. I stood on the red gray porch of my grandmother’s porch and looked back in the yard to where they were. I thought my 13-year-old body would be a big enough, wide enough, strong enough to protect them both. When we got to my Mom’s car, I remember calling the police ‘motherfuckers’ under my breath. I remember praying that they not be caught. I remember and officer in a red shirt, jeans and a ballcap pointing to the side of my grandmother’s house like a wolf after sheep.

That feeling of outraged helplessness I have never lost. Ever.

I saw the police as necessary evil. I never wanted to be in the presence of police officers, but I would watch COPS, and Homicide Life On The Street (the precursor to any Law & Order). I remember my Aunt Linda (John’s Mom) watching Hunter, and L.A. Law. The disconnect of wanting the good guys on TV to win and distrusting the police who I saw I couldn’t reconcile.

From this, and my complicated relationship with dealing with big blue gangs, we have When They See Us.  Have I seen it yet? No. Will I? Yes. Will I have something to say? Yeah! I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. The thing is, I want y’all to hear my heart. This review won’t be  haymaker to law enforcement (even though I still feel FTP is always going to be a war cry for me). I want those of you that follow this space to know that 10-/13-year old girl is still within the 37-year-old wife and mother. Those experiences have allowed me have the frank conversations that I can around and about police brutality. Those experiences fuel activism and pushes towards the support of police reform.

When They See Us is a reminder just how close trauma is. How malignant it is. It is also testament to how broken the system of law and it’s enforcement truly is. There is no amount of social undoing, op-eds or charity work that will allow Linda Fairstein, Elizabeth Lederer or the gang known as the NYPD to fix this. That’s the thing about history and recording trauma. As long as someone knows what happened, someone else will know too.

[image from Netflix]

In Memoriam: This Is It

Image result for this is it

Next month marks  decade in this artistic-music era where there is no Michael Joseph Jackson. That didn’t resonate with me until the documentary/movie This Is It  came through my Netflix home screen. You see, I remember Michael Jackson as this entity that could do anything–include defy gravity!

I remember watching Thriller every time it was on. My mother’s youngest sister, whom is 11 years older than me, had that album cover on the wall of her room! She played his music constantly, which means that the younger nieces and nephews that she watched listed to him and the Jackson 5 all the time.

I remember…I remember where I was when he died. My boyfriend at the time, living and working in California, called to let me know. I didn’t believe him. And this morning, I am still in a dream state. While this documentary played, I became that 8-year-old girl watching MOONWALKER over my cousin’s house after school. There was this aura that surrounded him. Perhaps as an artistic child, slightly out of step with the world, I noticed the otherworldly nature that was Michael Jackson.

I am old enough to remember singing to every song in his songbook when it came on the radio*. I remember for a month and some after he died that the hardest dudes I know were bumping Billie Jean, Thriller and Bad from their cars. I remember.

I’m also old enough to remember the first scandal. And the trials. And the settlement money. And the craziness that is the Jackson family. I am under no illusion of the cloud that hovers over his legacy. And in the age of #MeToo, we need to believe the victims. Conversely in the age of #MeToo, we know that people lie and are devious. But let’s move on.

I fought tears watching this. I grieved him. Just like I grieve Prince. Just like I grieve Aretha Franklin. There is something divine in being about to create, to walk in that God space of pulling something  that wasn’t there, was unseen, to where it can be seen. I know that Mike died from an overdose of prophophol–a powerful anesthesia. However, I know what it’s like to be that consumed with an idea, or a vision, that it robs you of sleep. Where you have to make yourself shut down–to stop, and even that sometimes doesn’t help.

I get it.

I was never graced to see Michael Jackson perform in concert. But everytime he was on television, I watched. I remember the raucous that was over the Black or White video when it premiered on Fox! I also remember how when that aired in 1991 (when was 10!), Mrs. Grant’s fifth grade class talked about it! Everything he did seemed so damn special. This Is It is no exception. I am happy someone had the presence of mind to record all this.

Y’all will excuse me while I get my Michael Jackson playlist rolling through Apple Music.

 

*-Top 10 favorite Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 songs (no particular order):

1.) Liberian Girl

2.) I Just Can’t Stop Loving You

3.) Jam

4.) Can You Feel It?

5.) Speed Demon

6.) Thriller

7.) Ghosts

8.) Bad

9.) Dangerous

10.) PYT (Note:  THE JABBAWOCKEEZ MADE ME LOVE THIS ALL OVER AGAIN!)

It Is Just So Damn Black: HOMECOMING A FILM BY BEYONCÉ

I have always been fascinated by African-American oral history. I have been a writer, embracing that title, since I was 8. In looking at this documentary, this all-out love letter to Black America, Beyonce outdid herself.

Beyonce Giselle Knowles Carter is officially a fuckin’–a motherfucking–icon.

The documentary is two hours of behind the scenes, unabashed, full-throttled Blackness. I was brought to tears no less than four times. The most beautiful thing? The quotes used by other icons of Black history, including Alice Walker, WEB DuBois and my beloved Grandmother Oracle, Toni Morrison.

I knew I was in for something special when the documentary opened with this quote:

“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”

(This quote is taken from Song Of Solomon, quote and book by Toni Morrison) 

Beyonce talks about her pregnancy, how rough it was, and what the comeback from those health issues meant. She talks about her desire to have gone to an HBCU and why those experiences at an HBCU she witnessed growing up still mattered to her. In bringing all that love and representation, how could you not love this woman? How could you not desire to gas a Black woman up? Support her? Treasure her? Protect her?

Imma say it:  how can you see HOMECOMING and call a Black woman a bitch?

How?

*40 TRACK ALBUM. And. A. Movie.

 

What I did not know, until Beyonce’ revealed it, was she is the first African American woman to headline this show, since its inception in 1999. For more scale on this achievement, and at the same time this now perceived unimaginable thing, I graduated in 1999. Officially twenty years ago this June. Twenty years ago, Beyonce was still part of Destiny’s Child. No iPhones. Dial-up internet. CD players. Sprint still cut your bill off for having a past due balance of less than $5.00. In twenty years time, it is hard to imagine any venue that Queen Bey hasn’t headlined or conquered!

Have I been a fan of Beyonce? Yes. For a while now. However, seeing her in this light, with this confidence, sense of self, and this power? It is incredible. As a woman of faith and ambition, to see Beyonce traveling in these creative realms wielding executive power while being Black, woman, mother, wife–reminded me that I can keep going.

That I can indeed be what I cannot see–yet.

There is a power to this documentary that you have to be Black to feel and understand. You gotta get that this was for US. Beyonce gave this to US. The world can enjoy it, but it doesn’t belong to the world. This was her reminder to us that she is still here. She is still paying attention and ain’t going no where. It was a love letter to Black America that, in the midst of all this chaos, all this murder and mistreatment, that we are LIT–and don’t act like you not. Lena Horne said that you aren’t born second class, that you have to be taught that. As WHO RUN THE WORLD was performed as only Beychella could turn it out, I thought about what Phyllicia Rashad said, “Your own self is such a treasure.”

As the documentary ended, I thought of my mother. Who was invested in me when I wanted nothing to with myself. Her anchor quotes to me where these three:

“Let no one change who you are.”

“Be yourself.”

“Don’t die with your dream in you.”

Alice Walker said, “Our mothers and grandmothers danced to music…not yet written.”

The music is being written…and so are the lyrics.

Get ’em, Bey.

Queens do King level isht.